“Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.” So begins The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. As morning settles in on the twenty-first century, the light is starting to reveal a few incontrovertible facts. The most obvious: A lot has been forgotten. We stand on the brink of a new dark age, and the explosion of technology over the last seventy-five years has left humanity in a very vulnerable place. Human frailty is not new, but warring factions in the past never posed a planetary threat as they do today. Forget about the possibility of nuclear war for a minute. Still dangling over our head, it is suspended by that legendary horse hair. But let’s assume that it’s secure for a moment. We’ve already been hit by a giant explosion of another kind. Ignorance is the H-bomb of our time, and the aftermath is not going to be pretty.
Just a few generations removed from pioneers that tamed the wilderness of Kentucky, I’m one who often fanaticizes about the struggles and triumphs of my forbearers. On the farm where I grew up, there’s an old home site where the log house originally stood. In the late seventies, the house still stood there, surrounded by outbuildings and barns, and an old well. That brick lined well would be all that would survive to see the twenty-first century. A nineteenth century relic, it took decades for us to finally fill it in with enough earth to keep it from caving. To this day, I’m still cautious when walking in the area, afraid that the earth will swallow me up. Cropping around it for years, I always thought about the man who dug the well. How long did it take? Was he scared when he got to the bottom? Was it contracted, or dug by the land owner? How much was the digger paid? All these questions from a simple hole in the ground, and they can never be answered. Things like that make me wonder about all the other things that are lost to time.
The other night, I watched a National Geographic special about the “Gospel of Judas.” It’s an ancient Coptic text from the second century that tells about Jesus from a very unlikely perspective; the viewpoint of the man who handed him over to execution. As it turns out, there were something like thirty competing “gospels” in circulation in the early church. Eventually, the four that corroborated each other were canonized and accepted by the faithful as being authoritative accounts of what actually happened. Judas’ gospel was almost lost to time until it was discovered by a farmer in Egypt in the 1970’s. It offers a completely different view of Christianity, and was dismissed by the authorities of the early church as heresy, as were most other accounts of the life of Christ. As with most knowledge, the documentary left me with more questions than answers. Like the well, it provoked an acute awareness of how much I just don’t know.
The problem with modern society is our security in how much we do know, and the fact that a good bit of it is probably not true. We refuse to learn from history, and so we keep repeating it. Monasteries served as reliquaries for knowledge throughout the middle ages. While kings were warring for position and material wealth, men who took vows of poverty and obedience were holding the true wealth of the world: our history. Today, as I look around I see small minded men making the same wars for the same reasons as those medieval kings. I also see thirty-year-olds living with Mom and playing video games. They can’t point out Vermont on a map, but they have no problem finding the safe place to hide in the alternate reality of Call of Duty. At age 26, Nikola Tesla had his alternating current epiphany and set the wheels in motion for the electrical system that would change the world. Most people at that age now have barely finished college and probably learned very little in the process. Granted, Tesla was a genius, but there was a time when people had a lot of practical knowledge too. They built, had families, and lived life as soon as they were able. They didn’t wait till they were thirty to try and accomplish something. Like the man that dug the well, they did what needed to be done. Risks to life and limb be damned. They lived.
The first step to conquering ignorance is admitting our own. Who will hold the knowledge during the next dark age? Louis C.K. said, “…you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of.” And you and I, my friend, are the new monks destined to keep the flame alive. I only hope we can meet the challenge.
I guess nothing’s bothering me this week. Of course, lots of things are wrong, but I can’t seem to get any of them to spill onto the page. I’m not sure if this is a sign that my soul is crushing under the weight of the world’s problems, or maybe a sign that I’m starting to accept it. As I consider the word acceptance, I’m reminded of the stages of grief that we learned about in my high school “Death and Dying” course (thanks Mrs. Orth): Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Is it possible that I’ve already mourned the world long enough to accept it for face value? I’ve not quite reached middle age. Psychologically I’ve been forty since I was twelve, but is this really me accepting things? Let’s examine this grief a little closer.
Denial: That one left town a long time ago. I have a well formed knowledge of how cruel the world is. The first time I looked at a house for sale where the dogs were treated better than the children, I realized that I’d been denying that those houses existed. The children that had no clean clothes to wear and no clean sheets to sleep on didn’t exist in my world before that. I had been denying their existence. That denial ceased that day. From then on, I have lived in a world where neglected children didn’t live in the third world, but a few miles down the road. The same is true for the first time I realized one of my clients hosted orgies, or the first time I was propositioned for something illicit, or the first time I discovered a publicly respected person was a drug addict. With each epiphany my eyes were opened and the world I was left with was a little more cruel. So, I guess I’m past denial.
Anger: That’s a toughie. I’ve struggled with letting anger get the best of me most of my life. It’s easy for such an ugly world to rouse my righteous indignation. Anger at the status quo is what drives a lot of my writing. Injustice is a powerful motivator, and I use it to propel me to do things sometimes. I try to remind myself of Luke Skywalker being tempted by the Emperor to use anger as a dark power though. While anger is a town I drive through most days, I’m pretty sure I don’t live there.
Bargaining: Hmm… I strike bargains every day in business, but not with a higher power. I gave up on being able to change God’s mind on anything a long time ago. He knows and I do not. I’m good with that.
Depression: Some may be shocked at this one, but I’m really not depressed. I’m disappointed a lot of days (and I have that natural scowl that I was born with), but for the most part I’m hopeful that there will be a tomorrow and that it will bring something new. I can look back on almost every bad thing that’s happened in my life and see a reason for it, and those days were all followed by a tomorrow. I am a student of history, and that is a fact. Therefore, it would be illogical to be depressed about what tomorrow might bring when it too will be followed by something different. A friend reminds me frequently that I live a charmed life, so I have nothing to be depressed about anyway.
That only leaves us with Acceptance to consider. I’ve never been through any twelve-step programs, but I am familiar with Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer in which you ask God for acceptance of the things you cannot change, the courage to change what you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I run short on courage a lot of days, and “if I claim to be a wise man it surely means that I don’t know.” -Kansas. Some days I run short on faith, hope, and charity too, but I’ve always had enough to get me through. I’ve told you before that a very cynical realtor once asked me if I was still “trying to save the world.” It was a purely business question and it was intended to infuriate me. It must’ve worked because seven years later it still gets my blood pumping. I guess the answer to that question from my current perspective would be, no. I’m looking at my life these days as just trying to get people into the lifeboats. The world is a loss. History has taught me that. Like a sinking ship that’s too far gone, I will no longer keep bailing. I will however try to help any of the survivors that I can. I’m straining the analogy at this point, but I set out on a voyage for brighter shores. I never intended to save the ship, so why bother? Even though I hadn’t planned on rowing the whole way in a lifeboat, so be it. The destination remains.
There’s no worse feeling than being alone; not physically alone, but spiritually. I’ve written a lot over the last several years because I’m lonely. In a world devoid of decency and honor and truth, I feel alone. And so, I write. And the strangest thing happens. I don’t feel lonely anymore. Because with every article (the good ones anyway) someone says, “Alirght, alright, alright!” It seems they read because they feel alone too. And for a few magic moments, as the words spill out of my gut and onto the page, my loneliness is purged. The reader’s magic moment is when they scan through the words and find they’re not alone either. For the time it takes me to write and the time it takes you to read, for those few minutes, we are united in a world where the good guys win. It’s fleeting, but it’s enough to keep a guy going.
Last Sunday night, millions of us rallied around one of those special moments. It happened in the strangest of places, and through one of the most unlikely characters. At the Academy Awards, Matthew McConaughey stood before an audience of silly, self-absorbed entertainers and paid homage to his family, his philosophy, and most astoundingly, his God. A perplexed audience listened as he gave a well prepared speech about a man in the afterlife making gumbo, a nuclear family that he wanted to “make proud,” and a creator that gave him a reason for being. To a group of people used to orgies and drug dens, hearing about wives, children and a deity makes for a strange Sunday evening. In his acceptance he didn’t focus on the movie he’d made, or the plight of people with AIDS, or the impact it’s had on the “gay community.” All of those topics would’ve received raucous applause and approval from the hall. Instead, he focused on the good character he’d played and the good character that he is. The silence from the audience was deafening, but it was not the silence of disapproval. There were no boos or hisses. It was the silence of confusion. They did applaud him as he finished, but I think it was more for the quality of the delivery than the message.
Interestingly, the best part of the speech was not the bravest part. When describing his hero, McConaughey said it has always been himself ten years down the road. He’s never lived up to his own expectations, and he knows he never will. Now in his 40’s, he has accepted that he’ll never be the man he’d like to be, but he’s going to keep striving for it anyway. This is a very optimistic outlook on life. Focused on the one thing in his life he can control, his actions, McConaughey has achieved greatness. I have known great men in my life, but I’ve never known one that accomplished everything they wanted. The great ones always leave room for improvement, and they keep hope alive for the future. When they reach old age and time runs out, that hope is invested in posterity. In less than a four minute speech Sunday, an actor expressed a lifetime of hope. Hollywood liberals are a very close-minded group. They celebrate diversity as long as it’s attacking societal norms that aren’t really normal anymore. Sometimes it’s as if they’re fighting 1950’s America not realizing that she’s been dead for decades anyway. Last Sunday night, a true form of diversity was on display. We were presented with someone brave enough to be himself. Provided with an opportunity and a podium a Texan rose to the challenge. Should anyone be surprised? That’s what Texans do. It’s what men do. I commented the other day that it made me proud to see him win, and prouder to see his acceptance. There aren’t many John Wayne’s or Jimmy Stewart’s, or actual men left in America. For a few minutes in 2014, we got to see true manliness on display. Not because he’s muscular. Not because he’s the sexiest man alive. The manliest thing he ever did was to humble himself before the things that really matter. In the moment when most of the people in the room would’ve crowed, he gave credit to everyone but himself. What would it be like to have a country full of people like that? What if all the boys grew up and started acting like men? Here’s hoping.
This article is funded by Farmer’s House Real Estate, LLC: A company managed by a man who believes you should get great service in selling your house for a price you can afford. With commissions that average about 3%, and a great track record, you owe it to yourself to give us a call. (270) 929-1595. Thanks.
“Most people give up at the one yard line.” That was probably the best encouragement I got the first year with Farmer’s House. It was a long year. But a friend reminded me not to give up, so I soldiered on. In fact, a lot of people encouraged me not to give up. In the face of threats, jeers, and sneers I soldiered on. While I was never threatened physically, I did get the feeling of what it would be like to be a scab crossing a picket line. I’ll not deny that unions have had purpose at times, but they also have an ugly side. Human institutions are like that.
No one had ever successfully competed on price in the Owensboro Real Estate Market. Danders will rise when that last sentence is read, so I should note that there is no fixed service price in real estate. Brokers can compete and charge whatever they want. I’ll just ask the reader though: As you thumb through this booklet today, how many brokers advertise their fees? Who’s competing openly on price? It couldn’t be done. It shouldn’t be done. In the words of a competitor at the time it was, “doing a disservice to all agents including yourself.” Between July and October of 2007, four of the more influential firms in the Owensboro real estate cartel would go on to attempt stifling my upstart home business. A fifth would join in that attempt a few years later. Their efforts continue. Their methods are unimaginative, but that’s an industry hallmark. I cannot assert that they coordinated their efforts. Federal Law prohibits competitors from conspiring against another competitor. It’s called collusion. Federal Law was the blanket that I had been wrapped in when doing the due diligence before starting the business. I was working under the very naïve assumption that we lived in a free and open marketplace. What I did not understand is that we actually live in a country where there are more robbers than cops, and the ability to seek justice is limited to those who can afford the best lawyer.
The thing that I found most interesting that first year was that one farm boy with a real estate license who was working from home could inspire so much animosity. You’ve got to remember, it was before I had thrown any punches. I wasn’t writing yet. My advertising was very limited, and about the only thing it said was, “If you think real estate brokers are too expensive, call me.” That one statement was enough to incite a near panic among well established businesses with long histories of success. Why? There’s a record we used to listen to when I was growing up by a Christian singer named Joe Wise, and it says:
The winds are coming.
The winds are coming...
I don’t think my house will
I built it on sand.
It will fall.
It will fall.
That is something I thought about a lot that fi rst year. What a sham a business must be if it cannot withstand even a hint of competition. I had the same license, the same tools, the same MLS as any other broker in the area. The only difference was that I was willing to work for a fee that was less. How did I arrive at that fee? Simply. I’m not a rocket scientist. I figured up what I wanted to make per hour. I looked at what plumbers made and what lawyers made and decided that a number in between those two should be appropriate for the type work I did and the level of risk and exposure I’d be taking on. That’s how I came up with the first fee schedule for Farmer’s House. Anyone who’s ever paid a six percent fee to sell a house should do some math on what the hourly rate for that was. You’ll be sick. Seven years on in this adventure, Farmer’s House is no longer a home business. We now have a public office with four licensed agents. We’ve sold hundreds of homes, and we work cooperative sales with other firms, large and small. It’s not always enthusiastic, but it is cooperative. With a little luck, we are closing in on the goal of saving the public a million dollars in real estate fees when compared to six percent. We’re not there yet, but that is our goal. When put that way, you can see why some nasty things might get said. Our business has always been centered around benefiting the public, and in turn benefiting ourselves. That’s the model for most successful businesses. To quote another line from Joe Wise, “I built it on rock. It will stand. It will stand.”
“Stop inflicting your opinions on the world!” -Sherlock
It’s amazing what can change in the span of a decade. Ten years ago, I was a brash, outspoken real estate agent with an opinion on most everything. In 2014, I’m a brash, outspoken real estate broker with opinions on most everything who watches PBS on a weekly basis. Did I just disprove my own opening declaration? Not really. PBS changed, not me. They have better programming now. However if you’d told me a few years ago that I would be glued to the tele for Sunday night PBS I would’ve said you were daft (I’m adopting some of the lingo from my programs; just roll with it).
Sherlock (on PBS) is a modern adaptation of the classic detective stories that just wrapped its third series in its US run this week, and it was terrific. In the current incarnation, Dr. Watson blogs about his adventures with Sherlock rather than journaling, and the
quote above was one where Sherlock encouraged him to stop. The first time I heard it I took it as a personal rebuke, as any opinion writer might. I’ve reflected on it for a while, and thus when I was evoking my muse this week, it came back to me. Should I be writing at all?
It was never my intention to inflict all these opinions on you, the unsuspecting reader thumbing through homes for sale. But here we are, several years on in my quest for truth through the written word. The encouragement of my readers has kept me at it. I find it easy to carefully consider arguments and let them flow through the keyboard. In generally interacting with the public, it’s much harder to articulate things. That’s the reason I’ve persisted in writing. It’s a chance to make my arguments in the most effective way I know. Today I have an argument that I’ve not yet properly made, and it follows:
I’ve confirmed through the feedback I’ve gotten over the years that the general public is not impressed by Realtors. You may have noticed that I seldom use the Realtor logo, though I am a dues paying member of the National Association. I’m a real estate broker first, and a Realtor a very distant second. I don’t care to identify with an industry known for ineptitude. Too many part time and crooked agents have earned for us a reputation that I don’t care to shout from the rooftops. One of my friends (yes, I have friends) in the organization once told me that when I railed against the industry, I was railing against her. Not true. There are a few fine practitioners. I’ve always tried to make that clear. My goal is to forward the industry through lower prices. How, you ask? The more cheaply and efficiently a professional brokerage is operated, the more value the public takes away, thus improving the perception of a Realtor. Also, when more emphasis is put on doing more deals for less money, the easy money starts to evaporate. This eliminates the easy money agents. And it is easy money; don’t let anyone fool you. By my estimation, if there were half as many agents, the public would be much better served. Lower commissions elicit less temptation for trickery, and more transactions lead to more skilled practitioners. Rest assured the average agent who participates in only ten to twelve transactions a year does not have as much to offer as the skilled agent who does fifty to one hundred. Online travel sites have greatly reduced the number of travel agencies over the last twenty years. It is my sincere hope that the same thing will happen to our industry. It’s in the best interest of the public, and in the best interest of my personal business. The only organization that stands to lose is the National Association of Realtors (see also: Union). It is my opinion that the organization’s best interests don’t always coincide with those of the rank and file, or the public. The professional broker still has a lot to offer. Marketing expertise, media savvy, market values, contracts: These are all areas of valuable expertise. The sooner the industry acknowledges its strengths as well as weaknesses, the more the public can benefit from what we have to offer. Two decades after the internet became the medium on which the world turns, the NAR has not changed. But the way buyers and sellers interact has. If the growth of Farmer’s House is any indication, the public knows this to be true. That’s not an opinion. It’s a fact. The industry often finds facts much more offensive than my opinions. Such is life.
"Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" from Ozymandias by Shelley
In attending a function alone the other day, I sat quietly and listened to the conversation by which I was surrounded. I"ll not say where I was, but it was reminiscent of Indiana Jones in the Well of Souls, except all the vipers could talk. As I sat there, munching on my salad, I heard talk of church and children. But most of all I heard fifty egos proclaiming their own greatness, and another hundred envious of the fifty. The whole thing was terribly boring. Put all the voices together and there weren't ten original thoughts between them. More than anything, it made me sad.
All that hubris got me thinking about Ozymandias. It's a poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley in the 1800's about the Egyptian king, Ramesses II. I'll not transcribe it, as anyone can look it up online, but it's about human arrogance. His ancient kingdom swallowed by the sand, Ramesses' monuments survived the centuries to deliver this message: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" The poem was a warning from Shelley that we should remember life's transient nature. Ozymandias was long gone, and centuries later all that remained were a few stones, a sneer, and an arrogant statement.
"There is nothing new under the sun," so says the good book. Those who do not accept scripture as the Word of God might do well to accept it as a historical record, because it provides insights into the things that repeatedly lead to the destruction of civilization. Man's life is vain and temporary, Ecclesiastes tells us. That is certainly as true now as it was around 300 BC when the scribe put pen to paper. The foolish and the wise, the rich and the poor all perish in the span of a hundred years. A hundred years after that they'll be lucky if anyone remembers their name or anything about them. For those that do remember, would one like being seen with a sneer proclaiming one's own greatness? Or would one rather warn them like Shelley? I'd rather warn them.
At that function the other day I was reminded of how homogenized we've all become. Political arguments can be made as to whether or not the country has succumbed to socialism, but we've certainly become socialists in our behavior: Mega churches where everyone ingests the same sermons, federally controlled schools where students ingest the same curriculum, and corporate farms that mass produce food that we all literally ingest after purchasing it from indistinguishably similar grocery stores. Dwindling are the small shops, small farms, and small churches of old. As the capacity for supply has grown, the supply chain has become more endangered. Look to the disaster that was twentieth century communism. The stores where they bought their scraps of food and clothing might look familiar. Their huge empty warehouses might closely resemble a Wal-Mart. They were built with the intention of providing a better life for the people. Their capacity was never the problem, but stocking the shelves became difficult in a homogenized society. Rather than feeding the masses, the communists succeeded in starving millions in the name of equality. Men that began careers writing about the corruption of monarchies ended up installing themselves as absolute monarchs by another name: Premier, or Chairman, or Great Leader. Most of those tyrants started dirt poor with the goal of providing food for their neighbors. Strange how that quest often leads to complete power and millions murdered in the pursuit of utopia.
It is the individual who does great things. Societies that start buying into the lie that everyone is the same are not far from ruin. True, all men are created equal. All men die equally too, but the space in between is rarely equal. What we do with our time, the only real currency of life, varies from person to person. It is incumbent on us all to use the time we have wisely and in pursuit of the truth. It is that pursuit of the truth that leads me to write this quite unconventional column . That same pursuit of truth lead me to Farmer's House. We offer great service from a small shop for 3% commissions, not six. It's trivial compared to the mysteries of life, but I decided years ago that the traditional real estate paradigm was ready to change. I still believe that to be true. Call me and I'll explain why.
Around a half century ago, Orwell noted that in an age of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Thereâ€™s a touch of irony when you draw on the words of a socialist to make the point Iâ€™m going to make, but Iâ€™m a bit of a walking contradiction myself. Irony is my friend.
Noted investor Peter Schiff made a video that has been making its way around the internet this week. In a fake protest, he went outside a Wal-Mart and began polling shoppers as they were leaving about the wages of Wal-Mart employees. From fast food workers to Wal-Mart clerks, of late the media has been campaigning for higher wages for almost all low level workers in a sort of neo-communist, â€œworkers of the world, uniteâ€ sort of way. When asked, almost all of the shoppers responded that they thought the workers were underpaid. As his â€œsolutionâ€ to this problem, Schiff asked them to donate a 15% surcharge on their purchase. If Wal-Mart just started collecting an extra 15% at the register, they could afford to pay the $15/hour that the patrons felt the employees deserved. To get the ball rolling, he offered to let them donate 15% of their purchase from that day towards a fund for the workers. When the rubber met the road, no one wanted to donate. Shocking.
You see, itâ€™s all fun and games when itâ€™s academic. Do you want more security? Of course. Do you want the TSA putting their hands in your childrenâ€™s pants at the airport because they might be terrorists? Um, no. Do you want everyone to make a fair wage? Absolutely. Do you want to pay for it yourself? Again, no. Do you want the idiot shouting obscenities at the top of his lungs to be arrested? Yes. Do you want to be told to shut up when someone disagrees with you? Most assuredly not.
It gets tiresome hearing people drone on and on about the founders of our government. Theyâ€™re dead, and due to our failing education system no one knows their names anyway. Itâ€™s a losing argument to fight for recognition of the values that they held dear. Mr. Schiffâ€™s approach is one that works much better. You have to put things in perspective for people living in our time. The benefit that can be taken from our founders is not their names or experiences, but the truth they have to offer. Truth doesnâ€™t have an expiration date. It doesnâ€™t expire because the human logos doesnâ€™t expire. Our problem today is that the narrative is being controlled by the deceivers controlling the media. The truth is this: American wages are low because America produces much less than it once did. Once upon a time, we provided the worldâ€™s people with every good thing they needed: Cars to drive, heaters for their homes, steel for their buildings, and books for their schools. We provide less and less of that each year. As a result, the least among us reap less and less reward for their struggle each year. Until we return value to our marketplace, income disparity will continue to grow. The gap between the haves and the have nots will continue to widen. We stand at a crossroads that humanity has been to before. At the dawn of the French Revolution, the socialists convinced the people that they could eat the rich. The Reign of Terror ensued and blood flowed through the streets. Iâ€™m not sure what the solution is to a problem this complex, but here we are.
Schiffâ€™s experiment is one Iâ€™ve been conducting for six years in my business. I tell you in each article that we charge 3% on average to our customers. This results in a fee thatâ€™s lower than many Realtors would consider â€œfair.â€ What Iâ€™ve not told you is that every client is offered the option to pay more. Each seller that we work with has the option to pay a higher fee if theyâ€™d like to see more money given to cooperating brokers. The seller, almost universally, chooses the cheaper option. It would appear that they feel itâ€™s a fair market wage. Would it surprise you to know that regardless of which option they choose, the cheaper commission listings sell with the same success rate as those who choose the higher? Roughly sixty percent of the time, a co-op broker will assist in the sale regardless of the fee. That ratio matches up to most brokers who presumably charge more than us. Like the Wal-Mart workers, Realtors have a fair market value. At Farmerâ€™s House, we will continue to charge low prices every day. As with Wal-Mart, people like what we do and weâ€™ve met success with it. If youâ€™d care to pay more to help all the poor Realtors, the choice is yours.